No, Single Mothers Are Not Breaking the Budget

No, Single Mothers Are Not Breaking the Budget January 14, 2014

Amanda Marcotte answers an increasingly common argument from the right about single mothers and how if they’d all just find a man and get married, they’d stop costing us so much in public assistance payments. Some examples of this argument being made:

Back in December, Ann Coulter claimed on Fox & Friends that, “single women look to the government as their husbands. Please provide for me, please take care of me.” Andrea Tantaros echoed the claim later on Fox, saying that the Obama administration is deliberately trying to keep single mothers “dependent on the government.” Rush Limbaugh is a big fan of painting single women as government-dependent, whining back in November that “unmarried women are looking at government for everything.”

And a couple different facts that undermine it. The first is that most women want to be married:

It is also asinine to assume that marriage is an institution that women resist and have to be forced into by making it impossible for them to feed themselves or their children without a man to provide. Most women want to get married, and single women are usually single not because they are taking some kind of government-subsidized stand against being with a man, but because they don’t have a good man right now to be married to. The fantasy of widespread female rejection of monogamous commitment is pure right-wing paranoia that has nothing to do with women’s real lives.

The second is that the vast majority of taxpayer funding, direct and indirect, does not go to single women:

Taking a broader view, there’s no reason whatsoever to think that single mothers, particularly single mothers living in poverty, are the biggest beneficiaries of government spending. As Brad Plumer of the Washington Post explained in September 2012, by far the largest group of recipients, with money sent to them directly by checks, is not, as conservatives assume, single mothers. No, 53 percent of direct cash entitlements go to people over 65 years old. Another 20 percent goes to disabled people and another 18 percent to working people, leaving only 9 percent for non-disabled, non-working people that conservatives like to pretend make up the bulk of recipients of social spending.

Of course, direct cash payments are hardly the only way the government helps people out. Tax expenditures are also a government benefit that should be considered no different than direct cash payments, because, at the end of the day, whether the government mails you a check or gives you a tax break, the result is the same: More money to you, less money in the government coffers. As Plumer demonstrated, if you incorporate tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction into your view of social spending, it turns out the real “welfare queens” are America’s wealthiest citizens. The top 20 percent of Americans receive a whopping 66 percent of tax expenditures, while the bottom 20 percent—the people who to scrape for every bite of food they get—only get three percent of this government bonanza.

And that doesn’t even count all of the government contracts given to corporations. But there’s another problem here, which is this: What solution are they suggesting? Cutting public assistance so that women will be forced to get married, whether that would result in a strong, stable relationship or not. This is incredibly unhealthy in every imaginable way.

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